British Airways is to cut flights until the end of June — a month longer than expected — to help it through the wave of disruption hitting the travel industry.
Airlines have been forced to cancel flights over the past month as they have struggled to rehire sufficient staff to cope with increased demand as border restrictions have eased and people have started travelling again in significant numbers.
BA’s chief executive Sean Doyle told staff on Tuesday that the airline would trim its flight schedules until the end of June to help inject greater resilience into its operations and make its schedules more reliable.
The airline had previously said it would reduce its schedules until May.
“It’s crucial that we do all we can to give our customers confidence about their upcoming trips,” Doyle said in a video message to staff.
BA has chosen flights with low passenger numbers on routes served by multiple flights a day to minimise disruption and avoid cancelling flights with short notice. Doyle did not say how many flights would be cut.
Like many other airlines and airports, BA is suffering from a lack of staff after cutting about 10,000 positions as part of cost cuts to help it through the collapse in business during the worst stages of the pandemic.
Other airlines, notably easyJet in the UK, have also been forced to cancel flights in recent weeks, but BA’s flights from UK airports have been more prone to cancellations than those of rivals.
The airline has had to go from flying 30 per cent of its normal schedules to 80 per cent in just a few months, “a steep mountain to climb”, Doyle said.
The aviation industry is now struggling to rehire quickly enough in a tight labour market, a situation compounded by delays in approving security clearances for new staff.
“Everyone is recruiting for frontline roles and the referencing processes are taking too long for people to get clearance to work at airports,” Doyle told staff.
The UK government has outlined plans to help speed up the recruitment process, but the transport secretary Grant Shapps has also shifted the blame on to airlines and airports, which he said had been warned “for a long time” of the need to “gear up again”.
BA has been recruiting since October, and 1,400 staff have started work at the airline since then, including 400 people in the past couple of weeks.
Staff have been offered £500 rewards for referring new colleagues, with some new starters who are already security vetted offered £1,000 sign-on bonuses.
BA’s Doyle added that Heathrow Terminal 5, BA’s hub, was facing a “squeeze” as Terminal 4 was still closed and would not be opened until mid-June.
Doyle told staff that the “rebuild is proving tough” for the aviation industry, and that it would take “time to recover”.
But he added that “the good news is that these are short-term issues”.
BA said “the past few weeks have been challenging”, and the decision to cancel flights will allow customers the “maximum flexibility” to rebook or receive a refund.